A showdown between two of the biggest surprises in the NBA meet at Vivint Arena on Friday night when Utah hosts Indiana — tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Entering the 2022-23 season, it was widely considered that the Jazz and Pacers would be similar. Both teams were expected to struggle after getting rid of star players — Donovan Mitchell/Rudy Gobert for Utah, Malcolm Brogdon for Indiana — and therefore, be legitimate contenders for one of the top picks in the 2023 NBA draft.
Interestingly enough, pundits only got half that prediction correct.
Both teams are very similar, currently in the playoff picture for their respective conferences. The Jazz are sitting at No. 7 in the West, a half-game out of fourth place, while the Pacers are currently the four-seed in the East.
With 10 new players on the roster, the Jazz have been led by Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson — although they'll say it's been a collective effort for the entire team.
Clarkson has responded by putting up career highs in multiple categories in a much-more expanded role this year. Starting regularly for the first tie in eight years, he's been sensational as a playmaker, helping drive one of the league's top offenses.
Likewise, Markkanen is in the midst of a career season as well — a beneficiary of Clarkson's expanded playmaking.
As Utah's No. 1 option, he's averaging career-highs in points (22.2), shot attempts (15.3), field goal percentage (53.1%), assists (2.2), minutes (33.9), and effective field goal percentage (61.3%). He's averaging 8.5 rebounds and shooting 39.5% from three-point territory, ranking second in his career.
The Pacers are led by a young, exciting backcourt in Tyrese Haliburton and rookie Bennedict Mathurin. Haliburton leads the NBA in assists, while Mathurin has adjusted to the game extremely quick with the ability to knock down shots from beyond the arc and get to the free throw line.
Although both teams are the best feel-good stories of the season, they've each struggled of late. The Jazz broke a five-game losing streak following Wednesday's win over the LA Clippers, while the Pacers have won just two of their previous five, including a buzzer-beating three-pointer against the Lakers.
"I want to give a lot of credit to the team for sticking with it," head coach Will Hardy said Wednesday night. "It's been a tough last couple games, and they (Jazz) haven't wavered in their belief and togetherness. … Looking forward to them taking care of their bodies and getting back to it on Friday."
Utah (13-11, 7-3 home / No. 7 Western Conference)
*117.0 Points Per Game (No. 5 in NBA)
*116.0 Offensive Rating (No. 4 in NBA)
*115.4 Points Per Game (No. 21 in NBA)
*114.0 Defensive Rating (No. 25 in NBA)
*Lauri Markkanen: 22.2 points | 8.5 rebounds | 2.2 assists | 39.5% 3P-shooting
*Jordan Clarkson: 19.5 points | 4.9 assists | 4.0 rebounds | 36.2% 3P-shooting
*Collin Sexton: 13.9 points | 3.0 assists | 2.5 rebounds | 35.5% 3P-shooting
*Kelly Olynyk: 13.1 points | 4.9 rebounds | 3.2 assists | 47.6% 3P-shooting
Indiana (12-9, 5-5 away / No. 4 Eastern Conference)
*115.6 Points Per Game (No. 8 in NBA)
*112.4 Offensive Rating (No. 13 in NBA)
*115.4 Points Per Game (No. 22 in NBA)
*112.1 Defensive Rating (No. 16 in NBA)
*Tyrese Haliburton: 19.3 points | 11.2 assists | 4.6 rebounds | 37.2% 3P-shooting
*Bennedict Mathurin: 19.2 points | 4.0 rebounds | 40.3% 3P-shooting
*Buddy Hield: 17.1 points | 4.6 rebounds | 36.8% 3P-shooting
*Myles Turner: 17.1 points | 8.3 rebounds | 2.6 blocks | 37.7% 3P-shooting
*Battle of the Backcourts
— To put it simply, the Jazz and the Pacers have two of the better backcourts in the NBA, and are getting the job done in similar ways. Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton like to attack the rim, push the tempo and take transition threes. Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin like to do the same, but are a bit more methodical in their approach compared to Utah’s free-styling ways.
OUT | Mike Conley (popliteus strain left leg)
OUT | Rudy Gay (third MCP joint sprain left hand)
OUT | Johnny Juzang (right wrist sprain)
OUT | Micah Potter (G League - Two-Way)
QUESTIONABLE | Tyrese Haliburton (left groin sore)
QUESTIONABLE | Trevelin Queen (G League - Two-Way)
QUESTIONABLE | Kendall Brown (G League - Two-Way)
OUT | Chris Duarte (left ankle sprain)
OUT | Daniel Theis (right knee surgery)
Time: 7:00 p.m. MST
Location Vivint Arena/ Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: 1280 The Zone